The Sandinista revolution is perhaps what most people think about when they think of Nicaragua. But as with so many other Central American countries, Nicaragua is a place rich with culture, sites, and opportunity for tourists.
With the help of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the country has been trying to recover from the ravages of war, but this recovery has been made harder by inflation and high unemployment. Still, Nicaragua has been dealing with the problems of the past and as success arrives, more and more people are making there way to this country–but there is still a lot of work to do. Some areas of Nicaragua remain unstable, run by armed criminal groups. This is particularly true along the northern border near Honduras; but if you are traveling to Nicaragua, it’s wise to be cautious no matter where you are.
The capital, Managua, is set on the southern shore of Lago de Managua. Over the years this city has been devastated by natural disasters, and since the earthquake of 1972, Managua has had virtually no city center. However, construction is underway, and the city continues to improve its facilities and restore attractions. But the line between those who have and those who have not remains distinct–poverty is a very real problem in Managua.
Granada is oldest Spanish city in Nicaragua. Founded in 1524 by conquistadores, it rests on shores of Lake Nicaragua in the shadow of Volcán Mombacho. The town is a literary center and has a quiet, historic feel. It’s an ideal city to tour on foot, and when you’re ready to take a break from seeing Granada’s colonial sites, the lake is just a short walk from downtown.
Down the Río Escondido from Managua, Bluefields is an ethnically diverse area on the Caribbean coast and an interesting and fun place to visit from the tourists’ point of view. The people of Bluefields know how to have a good time: there are several reggae clubs and dancing on the weekends.
Traveling in Nicaragua
While several overland and over-river border crossings exist between Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica, the major airlines fly regularly into Managua from Europe, North America, and other Central American countries. For the U.K., U.S., E.U. member countries, several other Latin American countries, Scandinavian countries, and more, visas are not required to enter Nicaragua. Tourist cards good for a 90-day visit will cost a small fee at arrival, and an exit tax is charged upon leaving the country. Travelers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries that do not have a reciprocal relationship with Nicaragua will need a 30-day visa to enter the country.
Budget travel in Nicaragua can be done for US$10-$20 a day, but for US$30-$40, you can enjoy an occasional rental car and meals at more upscale restaurants. US$40 and more will allow for very comfortable travel. Tipping is not a common practice in inexpensive restaurants, but 10% is the norm for more expensive eateries. There is a nationwide value tax added to each bill, and occasionally a gratuity will also be included, so be sure to check for the latter before leaving an extra tip. Haggling in open marketplaces is a common practice.
Domestic airlines fly to the major hubs such as Managua, Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas, and the Corn Islands, but if you are heading to places more remote, the bus is your best option. Buses run on a regular schedule, but be be wary of pickpockets and thiefs, who often turn to the buses to find unsuspecting victims. Make sure to keep an eye on your luggage and don’t keep anything of value in your pockets.
Boats are sometimes the only way to get to places on the two coasts, especially on the Caribbean side, but this can also be the most expensive way to travel.
Weather in Nicaragua
On the Pacific coast and toward the center of the country the best time to visit is early in the dry season–December to January. Temperatures are cooler and these areas are very lush during this time of year (the Caribbean coast is predominantly rainforest, that is, green and lush year round). However, Nicaragua is a nice place to visit almost anytime of year, with the possible exception of the end of the dry season–April and May–when the climate is much more arid.
Population: 5.2 million
Square Miles: 50,180 sq mi (129,494 sq km)
Capitol: Managua (pop 1 million)
Official Languages: Spanish, English Creole, Miskito
People: 69% mestizo, 17% European descent, 9% African descent, 5% indigenous peoples
Religion: Roman Catholic 73%, Protestant 16%
Major products/industries: Coffee, seafood, sugar, meat, bananas, food processing, chemicals, metal products, textiles, clothing, petroleum refining and distribution, beverages, footwear